Pope Francis

In an interview with Vatican News, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith says the letter “Samaritanus bonus” offers an integral approach to the human person, to suffering and illness, to caring for those in critical and terminal illnesses.

From Vatican News

Cardinal Luis Ladaria, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, describes Samaritanus bonus as “a necessary document” in light of new regulations and increasingly lax laws on euthanasia, assisted suicide and end-of-life provisions. In an interview with Vatican News, Cardinal Ladaria explains the reasons for the new document.  

Your Eminence, why is this new document from the Congregation, on the themes of the end of life, necessary?

Cardinal Ladaria: At the conclusion of the 2018 Plenary Session of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with regard to the study of doctrinal and pastoral questions concerning the accompaniment of the sick in the critical and terminal phases of life, the fathers suggested the expediency of a document that would deal with this, not only in a doctrinally correct manner, but also using strong pastoral tones and comprehensible language, in keeping with the progress of the medical sciences.

It would be a question of deepening, in particular, the themes of accompaniment and care of the sick from a theological and anthropological point of view, focusing also on some relevant ethical issues involved in the proportionality of therapies and concerning conscientious objection and the accompaniment of the terminally ill.

In light of these considerations, and although the Church’s teaching on the subject is already contained in well-known magisterial documents, a new organic pronouncement of the Holy See on the care of people in the critical and terminal phases of life seemed opportune and necessary in relation to today’s situation, characterized by an increasingly permissive international civil law on euthanasia, assisted suicide and end of life provisions.

Does the letter Samaritanus bonus contain anything new? And if so, what is new?

Cardinal Ladaria: The document offers an integral approach to the human person, to suffering and illness, to caring for those in critical and terminal phases of life. A caring that, in turn, cannot be reduced to the medical or psychological perspective alone, but takes the form of caring for the whole person in need. Because—as is said well in the first paragraph of the text—the care of life is the first responsibility that the doctor experiences in the encounter with the sick person.

It is not reducible to the ability to heal the sick person, since its anthropological and moral horizon is broader: even when healing is impossible or improbable, medical and nursing accompaniment, is an inescapable duty, including the care of the essential physiological functions of the body, together with psychological and spiritual accompaniment, is an inescapable duty. The opposite would, in fact, constitute an inhumane abandonment of the sick person. Samaritanus bonus insists from beginning to end on this integral dimension of care. In this sense, the document returns several times, to the fact that pain is existentially bearable only if there is a reliable hope. And such hope can only be communicated where there is a hopeful “choral” presence around the suffering patient.

Why does the document state that “incurable” is never synonymous with “un-care-able”?  

Cardinal Ladaria: The Letter appeals to a universal human experience: one in which the question of the meaning of life becomes even more acute when suffering looms and death approaches. As already pointed out, recognition of the fragility and vulnerability of the sick person—even if, at its root, the human being as such is fragile and vulnerable—opens the space to the ethics of caring. Exercising responsibility towards the sick person means ensuring their care until the end: “to cure if possible, always to care,” said John Paul II. It is a contemplative gaze that is suggested, that is, a holistic gaze, looking at the person as a whole, that allows a broadening of the notion of care.

This intention to always care for the sick person, the document reads, offers the criterion for evaluating the different actions to be taken in the situation of “incurable” disease: incurable is never synonymous with “un-care-able.” The Church never ceases to affirm the positive meaning of human life as a value already perceptible by right reason, which the light of faith confirms and values in its inalienable dignity. To affirm the sacredness and inviolability of human life means to not disregard the radical value of the freedom of the suffering person.